Sunday, 2 March 2008

Souvenirs with style

The obvious souvenirs to look for in the Czech Republic are crystal, ceramics, marionettes and bottles of alcohol (Becherovka in Bohemia, Slivovice in Moravia and Absinthe for those who haven’t realized yet they can buy it in their own countries). For something more unusual and individual, why not cast your eye over a couple of second hand stores and see if anything takes your fancy?
Second hand stores in the Czech Republic can stock a broad range of goods or be quite specialized, and are all over the place, although the high rents in Prague's centre have almost succeeded in driving them out of that part of town.
If you’re interested in books, postcards, old maps and sheet music, look for signs saying ‘Antikvariat’. In Prague's seventh suburb, Holešovice, the cafe/bookstore Okey Dokey is a good source of foreign language reading material, in Kutná Hora, there’s an excellent antikvariat on one of the streets leading from St James' church (the tall church) up towards the main square, and in Olomouc there’s a good one across the street from the fine arts department of the university.
If you’re interested in second hand clothes, look for ‘Sekač’, or ‘Second Hand’ stores. These can be in small shopfronts or in large halls, like upstairs at the main train station in Prague or at the Holešovice outdoor markets.
For other odds and ends, look for ‘Bazar’, ‘Antik’ or ‘Starožitnosti’. Some Bazars are highly specialized; they might sell only mobile phones for example. Others will have a wide range including old paintings, hand tools, gumboots, bicycles, musical instruments, beer mugs and porcelain tea sets. A Bazar is usually the first stop for people needing to sell something for quick cash and the staff should always ask to see identification to ensure they don’t come into possession of stolen goods.
An ‘Antik’ or ‘Starožitnosti’ store usually deals in goods of a higher standard and a collectible nature. You’re not likely to find power drills or mobile phones for example. Prices in general tend to be higher than in a bazar, but you can still turn up an occasional bargain. Old military paraphernalia, enamel signs, folk art and embroidery, and vintage cameras are some of the things that might be decent value and not too heavy for travellers to ship home.
Serious collectors need to be up with the sparrows for the Bleší Trhy (flea markets) in Olomouc and Ostrava. Rare, unique and collectible postage stamps, coins, medals, documents and antiques are the main offerings at these events. The vendors are often professional antique dealers and while you might find some amazing old items, you probably won’t be getting any bargain basement discounts.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with crystal, ceramics and the other stuff. Czech handcrafts enjoy their wide renown for good reason. Artworks, photography and Kraslice (the traditional painted Easter eggs) are more good souvenirs that you’ll find in the stores and streetside stalls.
For a unique souvenir or gift though, especially if you’re on a second or third visit to the country, you can’t go past the second hand stores.
If you’ve been to the Czech Republic, do you have a favourite souvenir or bargain that you picked up while you were here?


Michael said...

I don't think I have that many Czech souvenirs - Becherovka and Slivovice, of course; the shop at the Pilsner Urquell brewery has loads of good stuff, too.

Do stolen beer mats count?

Captain Oddsocks said...

Hehe. Yep, they count!

My favourite five-finger-discounted souvenir is a poster for an art exhibition that I once assisted in its struggle for liberty from billboard limbo...:-)

sansIcarus said...

I've got a few tops film posters ('Muriel's Wedding' and 'LA Confidential' amongst them which I liberated from the Kino Metropol in Olomouc.

Bookshops were my favourite souvenir place - especially those which have secondhand sections where you could find old photgraphy books.

Captain Oddsocks said...

Muriel's Wedding played in Olomouc? Cool!

Michael Svec said...

I admit to getting some of the typical gifts including the Easter Eggs and a pomlazky, supplemented with pictures of boys walking the streets looking for victims. As an education professor, one of my favorite and cheapest gifts was a student's report card from 1937 that I bought in Kutna Hora. Little Josef Vesely was a chvalitibrie or commendable student.

Captain Oddsocks said...

Wow, a school report must be a really interesting window on the times.

And wouldn't it be fascinating to know what became of the commendable Josef Vesely? If he survived WWII, how did he feel about the communists coming to power, and did he feel the same way for his whole life? I guess he'd almost be into his eighties if he's still alive.

I googled his name and found a Josef Vesely who is a medical doctor in nearby Caslav. No indication of his age though, and it would have to be a fairly common name...